When I asked friends about whether they experience bloating during their periods, I was met with a few raised eyebrows and uncomfortable looks. Period-related bloating is, at least from my own personal experience, something many women still don't want to talk about. Despite the fact that a majority of women suffer from similar symptoms, we often stick to chatting about our actual period pain and not the "other stuff" that's also pretty uncomfortable.
The truth is bloating is a common part of your menstrual cycle, thanks to all those hormone fluctuations (Note to self: Must remember that being a woman is really great). You don't have to resign yourself to feeling even worse during your time of the month. There are tricks out there that can help with bloating and other aches and pains. To get the answers to all your bloating-related questions, we went straight to the pros: reproductive health advocate Anna Druet and internist Niket Sonpal, MD.
Meet the Expert
- Anna Druet is a long-time reproductive health advocate. She is also a researcher and formerly the science and education lead at Clue, an app that helps you track your period.
- Niket Sonpal, MD, FACP, is an NYC board-certified internist. He is also a faculty member of Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Keep scrolling to find out what causes bloating during your period and how to ease the discomfort.
Don't Stress (Eat)
Hormonal changes during your menstrual cycle can cause digestive issues, like gas, constipation, diarrhea, and—yes—bloating. "These hormonal fluctuations increase water retention, which causes symptoms of bloating," says Druet. Specifically, an increase in the female sex hormone progesterone after ovulation slows contractions within the intestinal muscles, which in turn slows down digestion and causes gas retention.
Our old friend stress can also have an impact on our digestive system. This is unsurprising. "We tend to reach for carb-rich comfort food during this stage in the cycle, which adds to an already sluggish digestive system," says Druet. It has to do with something called the gut-brain axis. Studies show there's a strong link between the emotional centers of your brain and the intestinal functions of your gut, with this connection strongly relating to stress. So instead of stress-eating on your period, try to incorporate healthy snacks since they can actually help your uncomfortable symptoms.
Avoid Foods High in Sodium
Avoiding salty and processed foods during your period, which will contribute to water retention, can help relieve bloating. Yes, that means passing on your favorite snacks when you're in need of comfort food (sigh). "Eating the right foods is going to benefit bloating and other uncomfortable symptoms of menstruation vastly. Sodium, in particular, is something to avoid," says Sonpal. "Overeating salt can increase the amount of water a person's body retains. Minimizing sodium intake, before and after a period, may help water retention and alleviate bloating."
Eat More Protein and Potassium
Druet suggests that you try to eat protein in the form of chicken, eggs, and healthy fats (such as nuts and avocados). "Increase your potassium intake," says Sonpal. "Potassium regulates bodily fluids, decreases sodium levels, and increases urine production, in turn improving bloating. Opt for dark leafy greens, sweet potato, bananas, avocados, and tomatoes," but steer clear of anything too fiber rich, as this will just contribute to gas.
Don't Skip the Workout
If you like working out, there is good news: "One of the best things you can do to beat bloat is to indulge in light exercise," says Druet. "This can boost sluggish digestion and help clear excess gas out of the body."
"Exercise is a proven method for alleviating PMS symptoms, including bloating," says Sonpal. "By keeping the body active, the digestive system is continuously working and increasing blood circulation. This, in turn, will help alleviate symptoms of bloating." However, he advises exercising caution: Highly strenuous workouts can actually increase bloating, so don't overdo it. Instead, he recommends moderate exercise like "walking, jogging, swimming, yoga, and lightweight training."
Take a Break From Alcohol
Alcohol can irritate your gastrointestinal tract, which can lead to inflammation and therefore, bloating. And carbonated beverages like beer can exacerbate bloat even further by trapping gas.
Since alcohol is also a diuretic, your body will want to fight back by holding onto as much water as possible, which can lead to bloat. So you might want to consider swapping that adult beverage with infused water, at least during your period.
Teas, food, and/or herbs with natural anti-inflammatory properties into your diet and routine can provide myriad health benefits quickly. Ginger, especially, is helpful in soothing the stomach by settling gas and reducing muscle pain, such as period cramps, not to mention it also hosts secret beauty benefits.
But in case the holistic approach doesn't work for you, try an OTC anti-inflammatory medication like Midol and Aleve, which work by inhibiting the chemicals that cause inflammation and, in effect, bloat.
Try Heating Pads
"For quick relief, heat pads are a great way to reduce pain and menstrual clotting," comments Sonpal. "Lie down in a comfortable position and place a hot water bottle or warm compress across the abdomen. Allow the heat and weight to help alleviate the bloating and pressure in 10 to 15 minutes.
"Warmth can have an antispasmodic effect, relief from muscle contractions, and help the uterus relax instead of contract too hard or too much. This will lessen bloating and the aching sensation women commonly feel during their periods."
Find a Routine
It always helps to have a set routine in place, especially when you know your period comes every month. We suggest indulging in comfort—and seeing as it's best to stay away from our comfort foods—take some time to care for your body before, during (when bloating is the worst), and after. Whether this means keeping track of when your period's set to arrive, preparing anti-bloating friendly recipes, or pulling out your favorite knit leggings for a walk around the neighborhood, it's all about doing your best to quell the symptoms that get you down.